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University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England

Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England

by William H. Sherman
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In a recent sale catalog, one bookseller apologized for the condition of a sixteenth-century volume as "rather soiled by use." When the book was displayed the next year, the exhibition catalogue described it as "well and piously used [with] marginal notations in an Elizabethan hand [that] bring to life an early and earnest owner"; and the book's buyer, for his part, considered it to be "enlivened by the marginal notes and comments." For this collector, as for an increasing number of cultural historians and historians of the book, a marked-up copy was more interesting than one in pristine condition.

William H. Sherman recovers a culture that took the phrase "mark my words" quite literally. Books from the first two centuries of printing are full of marginalia and other signs of engagement and use, such as customized bindings, traces of food and drink, penmanship exercises, and doodles. These marks offer a vast archive of information about the lives of books and their place in the lives of their readers.

Based on a survey of thousands of early printed books, Used Books describes what readers wrote in and around their books and what we can learn from these marks by using the tools of archaeologists as well as historians and literary critics. The chapters address the place of book-marking in schools and churches, the use of the "manicule" (the ubiquitous hand-with-pointing-finger symbol), the role played by women in information management, the extraordinary commonplace book used for nearly sixty years by Renaissance England's greatest lawyer-statesman, and the attitudes toward annotated books among collectors and librarians from the Middle Ages to the present.

This wide-ranging, learned, and often surprising book will make the marks of Renaissance readers more visible and legible to scholars, collectors, and bibliophiles.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812220841
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Publication date: 09/10/2009
Series: Material Texts
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

William H. Sherman is Professor of English at the University of York. He is the author of John Dee: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance and coeditor of "The Tempest" and Its Travels, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Chapter 1. Introduction: Used Books
Chapter 2. Toward a History of the Manicule
Chapter 3. Reading the Matriarchive

Chapter 4. "The Book thus put in every vulgar hand": Marking the Bible
Chapter 5. An Uncommon Book of Common Prayer

Chapter 6. John Dee's Columbian Encounter
Chapter 7. Sir Julius Caesar's Search Engine

Chapter 8. Dirty Books? Attitudes Toward Readers' Marks

Afterword: The Future of Past Readers

List of Abbreviations

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Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
rheaphine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sherman's book is engaging and information-dense. The organization is clear and logical. Sherman's theoretical and methodological frameworks are discussed and made somewhat transparent; he does not leave the reader guessing about his work's placement in the field. His notes are generous and extremely helpful, especially for those readers who intend to access the many works he discusses. He gives shelf marks and locations for all items in his notes and repeats this information (by location and format) in his bibliography. Especially of late I've been reading heavily about book and reading history, with a focus on the early modern period in England. While I am familiar with many of the names and works mentioned, I still learned a number of surprising and interesting things. Sherman spends a good amount of time on the pointing hand/finger used by annotators. He makes it clear that this is not a topic generally treated in other works, but points to other works that mention it, even if they don't go into great detail.Sherman is certainly a very aware and conscientious researcher and writer. He is sensitive to the gendered nature of much historical work. He has an entire chapter devoted to women reader/annotators. When discussing anonymous annotators, Sherman is careful in one instance to stop and "unpack" his use of masculine pronouns (p. 96). Unfortunately, this is inconsistent. Later, in another discussion of a different anonymous annotator, Sherman is not so transparent (p. 152). This was disappointing to me; I could not find any mention of why Sherman assumed (?) this writer to be male. Sherman also has a tendency to both assert the inability to discover intentionality and yet ascribe intention to a particular mark or comment (cf. p. 77--Eliz I and crossing out). This happens throughout the text, but never excessively. More transparency would be helpful here--if there is something in the work with which he is interacting that suggests intention (heavier ink, etc.) that would be both interesting and helpful to this overall argument about the slipperiness of work with marginalia.Overall, I found myself annotating Sherman's book as I went. Before I finished it, I was looking forward to re-reading it. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in marginalia, early reading, commonplace books, responses to the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, women readers, John Dee, and early systems used for marking books. Sherman covers a wide range of topics but manages to keep his focus and point the reader to other work that complements and extends his own.This book is part of the University of Pennsylvania Press Material Texts series; I looked at the complete series list and would recommend going there after (or before or while) reading Sherman.